Rotel and Ken Ishawata teamed up to design and make a competitive and high-performance CD player. The A11 and CD11 are a couple of the last things Ken worked on before passing away at the age of 72. If you have spent any time in the world of Hifi you have at least heard of MR. Ishiwata. He was and always will be one of the most influential people in the industry, designing the legendary KI CD player for Marantz, as well as many of their other products. It would make sense for Rotel to want Ken to collaborate on a CD player of their own given his history. Now chances are if you were born in the 80s or early 90s there you own or at least have owned a ton of CDs. I know this was my music format as a kid and teenager. Cassettes were on their way out and vinyl records had dipped in sales quite a bit as well. Mobile digital audio players were around in the late 90s but were either expensive or not worth the money so CDs it was. I had pleather cases full of CDs and one of those portable disc players that went everywhere with me, as well as a pack of extra AA batteries. I still remember getting my first anti-skip portable player, which was revolutionary at the time. Now many years later after my CD collection was stolen along with my car in college I found myself wanting to buy CDs again and looking for a way to listen to those CDs. Enter the CD11, I visited my local Hifi shop, Sound and Vision in Ohio, talked with the staff, and came to the conclusion the CD11 was perfect for what I was after and fit into the budget I was looking to spend on a CD player. Speaking of budget the CD11 comes in at a retail price of $599.99, originally I was looking at getting the CD14 which is $799.99. After talking about it, it seemed as though the CD11 may be a better value and I could always move up if I wasn’t satisfied.
CD11 Set Up and Sound
There is not much in the way of setup with a CD player, not like a turntable anyways. Basically unbox, position, and plug it in. You have options for your output with the CD11, either RCA analog out or COAX digital. I would have liked to see the option for optical as well, but it’s not really necessary. If you use the analog output the digital to analog conversion is taken care of by Texas Instruments, which may catch you off guard. Texas Instruments is not a name you hear often in the DAC world, usually Burr Brown or AKM are the names we see in the spec sheet. I was not too worried about having TI inside my CD player as they own the Burr Brown name as well I have experience building circuits with their components and can say with confidence they offer excellent quality. Burr Brown chips are still made and updated by TI alongside TI’s own line of DAC chips as far as I can tell by product listings and info on TI’s website.
Unfortunately, I do not have a good comparison in the realm of CD players as this is the first home cd player I have ever owned that was not part of a stereo or actually a DVD player being used to play CDs. I have listened to CDs at various audio stores or show setups but it is hard to say which part of what you are hearing out of those systems is the CD player when you haven’t spent enough time with the rest of the components to create a bass line. That said, I can compare it to other digital sources I have and discuss how it sounds in comparison.
Up until buying the CD11 I was ripping CD to FLAC files and loading them onto my Fiio M9 DAP. Now, this is a great way to have lossless playback, but it is not perfect. One the Fiio M9 is a budget DAP, meaning there are some downsides. The major one is the operating system, it is a bit slow and clunky, the next issue being that you need to keep it charged. It is not as simple as dropping a disc in the tray and hitting play, but you also can have all your CDs play back to back. Another drawback about the DAP is that FLAC files are huge and while space is cheap these days, it is still finite, and large capacity micro SD cards can cost more than the Fiio M9. The other thing to consider with storage is the fact that a failed drive or SD card can mean all that music lost until you re-rip your music to a new storage device. CDs, while they too have a shelf life, are less likely to just stop working one day for no reason other than that’s the day. To give you an Idea, while working on this review my 1TB drive in my PC died. Luckily I have the hardware and software to recover drives in many cases and was able to make a clone over to a new drive, but this came with literally zero warning.
The sound comparison between the FLAC File on the Fiio and the CD11 is not huge. I will say the CD11 seems to pull a bit more detail out than the M9, which could be due to a multitude of reasons, perhaps the process of ripping music to a file, then transferring it, then reading and converting it analog, instead of reading the digital bits directly from the CD and converting it to analog, or it could be the DAC quality, the power supply, or circuitry design. There really should not be any difference in the signal that comes from a FLAC over the CD itself but as I am not a Data or computer engineer, I have to assume that since it is labeled lossless that it is truly the full extent of the file on the CD. That said the CD seems to come through more clearly, it seems there is more space between the sounds of instruments and vocals, everything sounds more open so to speak. When comparing the CD11 to streaming Spotify, there are more obvious quality differences, we still do not have Spotify HifI which means even 2with premium I am streaming lossy files. Comparing one of my favorite CDs “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” – Modest Mouse to Spotify, there are some stark differences in the top and bottom end. Bass is tighter and a bit deeper on CD, as well as the airiness of the top end is more noticeable. Vocals have more clarity on listening to the CD version over streaming, Issac Brock comes through effortlessly. Sound stage and Imaging also get a boost over streaming lossy files, though less if at all noticeable coming through the FLAC files on the Fiio M9.
Something I did not try with the CD11, was a burned CD-R(W). I am not sure how well it handles them, granted it should not have any issues, but as I recall when I was younger my portable CD player and Car CD player would not play all CD-Rs. Rotel does say it will read CD-Rs and RW discs, however it is not a guarantee that all of them are compatible. This seems to be true for most all CD players, just something to keep in mind if you have a large collection of CD-Rs that you have made over the years.
Personally I think CD offers the best overall sound quality, that said I enjoy playing LP’s, however with CD’s you don’t have the surface noise, the RIAA curve and so on to deal with. With CD it is just the music. Keep in mind that a good record set up will in most all cases sound better than a bad CD setup. High end tables, carts, and tone arms can pull everything out of a good pressing, where a cheap CD player with poor circuits and a bad DAC will likely not sound all that great. There is also SACD which I have a hard time trying to convince anyone to get into. It’s one thing if you have a collection of SACDs, then yes get the SACD player, but as they will cost on average double the price of a comparable CD player and the rarity of the SACDs it is probably not worth it. I had strongly contemplated getting a SACD player over the CD11 just in case I find some SACDs at some point but the cost difference and the fact that most any artist I like doesn’t have anything on SACD, it seemed like an exercise in excess for the sake of it.
I have grown to really like the latest offerings from Rotel, the Michi X5 is a masterclass in building an integrated amp. The RA-1572MKII is one of the best integrated amps I have heard in its price bracket, and now the CD11. Rotel was never on my list of products to own before. That has changed clearly, as I now own a CD11 as part of my personal kit. If you asked me a year ago which CD player I would have looked at, it likely would have been Marantz for this sort of price point or perhaps Cambridge for even less money.
When it comes to appearance the CD11 matches the A11 and some of the other current Rotel Line up, though there are two distinct looks available. If you have the RA-1572 and other products in this line it will not match those if that matters to you, there is however a CD player available from Rotel that does match that face style. I know for some of us looks are very important and haveing a complete set or stack looks better than mismatch gear. That said I have a whole mess of different looks going on at the moment as I tend to ignore appearance in favor of performance. The faceplate is very simple as is the display and button layout. I prefer this to a busy or complicated front panel. The display could probably be better, but it doesn’t contribute to sound quality or even your ability to use it, so a better one wold just mean more money where it doesn’t count. The thing is the CD11 is not a cost no object CD player, it is a value minded player, and Rotel hit a homerun in that department. You get amazing sound quality and parts quality where it matters and plenty good enough where it matters less, I.E. display, buttons, enclosure styling.
- one pair of analog RCA outputs
- coaxial digital output
- RS-232 port for integration with third-party automation systems
- 12-volt trigger in
- Rotel Link 3.5mm input for optional attachment of other Rotel network-enabled products with Rotel Link Out connections
DIMENSIONS (W × H × D)
430 × 98 × 314mm
17″ × 3.8″ × 12.4″
FRONT PANEL HEIGHT
STANDBY POWER CONSUMPTION
TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION (THD)
0.009% @ 1kHz
20Hz – 20kHz ±0.5dB
S/N RATIO (IHF “A” Weighted)
DIGITAL TO ANALOG CONVERTERS
>115dB @ 10kHz
Overall I am very happy with my CD11 at the price it comes in at ($599.99). The sound quality is great, the ease of use and simple clean button layout is pleasant. Would a nicer screen be, well nice, sure but I don’t need it to listen to CD’s or pick a track. Once thing I would have really liked to see, but isn’t a deal breaker is optical output. there is a COAX out if you have another DAC you prefer, but the option for optical would be nice as well. I can not say if this is a large cost adder as the connector and related circuit may be something that wasn’t worth adding for the cost. I also do not know the “market share” that optical holds in terms of which digital connection most users will actually take advantage of. Again for me it’s not a deal breaker but for someone with an external dac that only has one of each connection style may already have the COAX spoken for. This is something I have noticed on a lot of stand alone DACs, you get one COAX, one Optical, One USB and perhaps a BNC and/or AES. Some of the much higher end options like the T+A DAC 200 have a couple of each, but the more entry level or mid range options do not. I am using mine with the buit in DAC and truly enjoy it, so this may not be an issue for you either, but something to keep in mind depending how you want to connect the CD11 to your system.
I would say the CD11 is a great choice for the moderate enthusiast. There are better options for more money if you are deep into CD collecting and listening. My collection of CDs is small at the moment, unfortunately my collection from when I was growing was lost when my car got stolen in college. I am regrowing the collection again, and may upgrade some time in the distant future. If you are looking for your first Hifi CD player and considering the options in in the sub $1000 dollar range the CD should be on your list to audition.
Gear used in Review
- Marantz SR7009
- Mcintosh MC250
- Martin Logan Aerius I
- Sonus Faber Sonetto V
- Audioquest Forest Interconects
- AudioQuest PowerQuest 3
- Viborg Power Cables
If you are in Ohio Sound and Vision is your Local Rotel Dealer, Click the link below to see when you can audition this and other Rotel Products
For information on where you can audition the CD11 click the link below.
Hifi Chicken purchased the CD11 at retail, Rotel, nor their or other affiliates pay in part or full for this review.